Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Mae West: The Bard of Broadway

"MAE WEST, Hildegarde, Charlie Chaplin, Bill Hart, George M. Cohan, Joe E. Lewis, Jackie Gleason, Abbott & Costello, Judy Garland, Betty Hutton, and Olsen & Johnson were all top earners," writes Joe Laurie, Jr. in Vaudeville: From the Honky-tonks to The Palace [NY: Henry Holt, 1953].
• • Though the Brooklyn bombshell was demanding $500 a week by 1922, her pianist Harry Richman noted she did not always get it — — and she preferred to make do with her phone being turned off rather than back down and accept a little less for a booking. And like her friend Texas Guinan, Mae did not always pay her bills. For example, The New York Times and Variety both printed courtroom coverage when Tommy Gray sued Mae for not paying his fee of $146 for special material.
• • Thomas J. Gray • •
• • Mae was named for her paternal grandmother Mary Jane Copley, who was born in Ireland. And her familiarity with Irish dialects gave the variety artist a tremendous advantage in vaudeville, where she was often cast as an Irish maid — — and sang Irish novelties such as Tommy Gray's comical song "They Are Irish," to which Mae added a few more choruses, each in a different Irish accent.
• • The "Bard of Broadway" was born in New York City, Mae's hometown in the month of March — — on 22 March 1888.
• • Talented and prolific, Thomas J. Gray was a lyricist and an author who had attended Holy Cross School and was a charter member of ASCAP (1914). He served overseas during World War I, and later wrote scripts for silent movies, songs for Broadway and London revues, plus special material for Mae West, Bert Williams, Blossom Seeley, Frank Tinney, Savoy & Brennan, Trixie Friganza, and many others. His column "Gray Matters" ran in Variety and his byline appeared in the New York Dramatic Mirror as well. His chief musical collaborators included Fred Fisher and Ray Walker.
• • Booked at Hammerstein's Victoria in September 1912, Mae performed jokes and songs that she commissioned from Tommy: "Isn't She a Brazen Thing?", "It's an Awful Easy Way to Make a Living," "The International Rag Song," and "Good Night, Nurse."
• • In 1913, Variety raved: "Thanks to Tommy Gray and her own comedic ability, Miss West looks set as a big-time feature."
• • Bronchitis cut short his brilliant career. Tommy died on 30 November 1924. He was 36 years old.
• • Though Mae often did not pay his bills until a judge intervened, and she was taken to court more than once by Tommy, she attended his funeral at St. Malachy's in midtown, a standing-room-only affair.
• • Quote, Unquote • •
• • From New Delhi, India, Sunaina Kumar writes: MAE WEST knew what she was talking about when she said too much of a good thing can be taxing. That in a nutshell is the story of Indian kitsch. It started as a camp, underground movement that appropriated everyday Indian symbols like nimbu mirchi, auto, kaali peeli, and cutting chai, coloured them in multi-hued nostalgia and put them on bags, cushions and coasters. Either you got it or you didn’t. ...
• • Source: Article: "Horn. Not ok. Please" written by Sunaina Kumar for Tehelka Magazine, Vol 8, Issue 10; posted on 12 March 2011
• • By the Numbers • •
• • The Mae West Blog was started seven years ago in July 2004. You are reading the 1876th blog post. Unlike many blogs, which draw upon reprinted content from a newspaper or a magazine and/ or summaries, links, or photos, the mainstay of this blog is its fresh material focused on the life and career of Mae West, herself an American original.

• • Come up and see Mae every day online: http://MaeWest.blogspot.com/
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• • Photo: • • Mae West • • 1912 • •
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Mae West.

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